Web filtering solution from Canadian firm Netsweeper Inc. is reportedly being used for Internet censorship in Pakistan

Canuck technology used in Pakistan Web clamp down?
A Canadian technology company’s Web filtering solution is being used by the Pakistani government to censor Internet content in the country, according to a report from Internet research organization Citizen Lab.
Citizen Lab, based in the University of Toronto, said Guelph, Ont.’s Netsweeper Inc. appears to have succeeded in winning the contract last year to provide Pakistan with an Internet filtering system which could block Internet protocol address ranges, Web sites and specific file type.
 
A sample of a blocked page on a Pakistani ISP (Source – Citizen Lab)
 
Research conducted by OpenNet Initiative, an organization that monitors Internet surveillance, uncovered evidence of filtering of blasphemous and anti-Islamic contents and sites promoting Balochi, Sindhi and Pashtun human rights and autonomy in Pakistan. Major social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were, on separate occasions, also blocked by Pakistani authorities.

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“Citizen Lab searched the computer search engine Shodan for Netsweeper installations on networks in Pakistan and discovered Netsweeper installations on Pakistani Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL),” The Citizen Lab report said,.”The deployment of Netsweeper at the ISP level can potentially result in pervasive filtering across categories as a result of the way Netsweeper works.”

The Netsweeper Web filtering solution provides clients with an automated mechanism to “bulk-filter” entire categories. The PTCL is Pakistan’s leading telecom provider. It provides broadband Internet connectivity to more than one million subscribers and account for as much as 60 per cent of the country’s broadband market.
Netsweeper has not commented on the report.

The research organization said that Netsweeper’s filtering services has been used for state-sanctioned censorship in several countries, including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Yemen.

Netsweeper’s categories include:
• Adult (adult image, alcohol, alternative, criminal skills, extreme, gambling, hate speech, lifestyles, matchmaking, occult, pornography, profanity, substance abuse, weapons)
• Entertainment (arts and culture, educational games, entertainment, games, humour, sports)
• Information (general news, journals and blogs, political, portals, religion, self-help, sex education, social networking, technology, travel)
• Security (adware, directory, host is an IP, intranet servers, malformed URL, phishing, anonymizer, viruses and malware)
• Miscellaneous (investing, job search, sales, search engine, web chat, web e-mail)
• Advanced (general, images, network timeout, network unavailable, new URL, no text redirector page, safe search, search keywords).
• Custom Categories (e.g. extreme sites for racism)

ISP’s and telecoms can chose which categories they want to block and can also manually add URLs, categories and Web sites they want filtered.

Various advocacy groups continue to express concerns about the lack of accountability and human rights violations surrounding online censorship and surveillance practices in Pakistan and other countries.

Citizen Lab and other human rights organizations have repeatedly asked companies whose technologies are being used or modified to conduct these practices, to provide greater transparency around the decisions they make the services they provide.

Read the Citizen Lab report here

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